Monrovia — A group of experts comprising of human rights activists and law enforcement officer have called for sustained advocacy and coordinated fight against rape and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) against women and children.
The experts include Madam Faith Akovi Cooper, Country Director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Ms. Oneta Roberts, Director of SGBV/Domestic Violence Unit Program at the Ministry of Justice and and Cllr. Joyce Reeves Woods of the Association of Female lawyers of Liberia (AFELL).
Other panelists include Lena Cummings, Project Coordinator, Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Eric Nagbe, National Coordinator, Servants of all Prayer (SOAP) Men's Ministry and officer Joseph K. Kowel, a Supervisor, at the Liberia National Police.
They spoke during a panel discussion at the ongoing 'Capacity Development Training in SGBV Trauma' sponsored by the Cummings Africa Foundation (CAF).
Speaking on the theme "Understanding Liberia's Rape Crisis- How Do We overcome it Together," the panelists, in separate remarks, called for concrete reforms to shape cultural attitudes and robust sets of preventative measures to tackle the problem of rape and other forms of SGBV against women and children.
Some of these measures, as outlined by Madam Faith Akovi Cooper, include male engagement, incorporating gender education in school's curriculum at an early age sustained awareness.
"We need sustained advocacy. Not just one time, when someone gets rape, we jump in to the streets... But what are we doing individually as citizens of this country to get involved in sustained advocacy?" Madam Cooper asked.
She continued: "Political will is a must. Let me remind you, the responsibility of any nation is its ability to protect its people. As a nation we must prioritize the needs of our people by ensuring services are budgeted for in our national budget; by advocating for us to prioritize the needs of survivors.
The construction of a rehabilitation took center stage as the panelists called for the construction of the Cheesemanburg Rehabilitation Center to reduce the overcrowded South Beach Prison and to launch a proper rehabilitation program for inmates, including juveniles.
"Our psychiatrist can tell you, you cannot rehabilitate in a space that the rapists and criminals are in right now," said Ms. Roberts of the Ministry of Justice.
"We hope that we can build this facility in Cheesmanburg that is going to house 6,000 inmates, specifically with a wing for juveniles. The juveniles must be separate from 18 [years old] and above because if a child is incarcerated with a serial rapist, that rapist is going to rape him and when he gets out of that prison, he is going to continue."
For her part, Cllr. Woods noted that a proper rehabilitation center would be pivotal in curbing crimes including rape.
"If we start to prosecute people more and we have places to put them there, and we start to do rehabilitation, which is what we don't have in this country... because when somebody goes to prison and there is rehabilitation, it is highly likely that when that person comes out, they will not go back to be menace."
"We have to work with the government to see how we can open Cheesemanburg and move the people from this Center Street. Because we are creating more problems when we continue to have people in Center Street."
For his part Officer Joseph K. Kowel called for more support to the police to address logistical problems encountered during the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators, as well as more support to survivors of rape and other forms of SGBV.